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Cell Carriers Take Steps To Stop 'Cramming'

Four major companies that provide cell phone service in Vermont say they will no longer allow most third party charges to be added to consumer cell phone bills.

Three of the mobile phone carriers – AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile - told Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and attorneys general in 44 other states that they will stop passing along third party charges for what are known as premium text message services. 

In a statement, Verizon said it is also largely discontinuing the practice of allowing third party charges to be added to customers’ bills. 

Sorrell says the charges are often added to cell phone bills without the consumer’s knowledge.

It’s estimated the practice, called cramming, costs land line and cellular phone users $2 billion annually.

Vermont is one of two states that already bars land line cramming.

Sorrell says the next step is to try to determine whether states can recoup money for consumers who were billed for unauthorized services.

“The big issue really is how much have consumers all over the country been taken in or scammed by these cramming charges that they’ve been paying but haven’t even known have been on their bills,” he says.

Sorrell says most people are not aware that a third party charge can appear on their bills.

Despite cell phone company efforts to police the premium text message services industry, Sorrell says a survey conducted by his office and the University of Vermont found that 60 percent of third party services on cell phone bills were not authorized by the consumer.

He says as a result of the phone companies’ decision any existing unauthorized charges should be disappearing from cell phone bills in coming months.

Some of the carriers say they will continue to allow charitable or political donations to be billed by third parties.

How phone cramming works

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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